Stephen Marshall is Senior Lecturer in Transport Planning and Urban Design at the Barlett School of Planning, University College of London. In his book ‘Cities, Design and Evolution’ (2oo8), Stephen Marshall has researched how cities are put together: both in terms of how different parts are organised in relation to the whole, and how they are created or evolve over time. The book presents a new evolutionary perspective that recognises both the designed and organic nature of cities. 


Lezing EUR 50

Picture by Fred Ernst


“Self organisation can best be explained, and visualised, in terms of nature: it is the formation of natural patterns which are in some way created by the action of things smaller than themselves. It is the natural arrangement of a combination of cells or pigments at the microscopic level that together give rise to the formation of a spontaneous pattern at the next higher level. Natural examples may include beehives, termite mounds and wasp nests. These actions may be completely oblivious the overall pattern they are creating, and it may look organised, but it came about spontaneously through various different levels. This therefore renders it as self organised.”

“As a Professor of Lobotomy, Geddes viewed this concept from a biological perspective: he studied the intricate organisation, synergies and cooperation of different living things. His views on evolution differed to those of Darwin, in the sense that he emphasised cooperation rather than competition. Geddes believed that synergies increased as a continuum over time and that human beings were merely another species in the system. He therefore perceived cities as the most complex form of evolved habitat and conurbations as the pinnacle of evolution.”

“It is clear that a strategically planned larger grouping can have positive and negative outcomes. In order to be beneficial, the whole needs to be better than the separate parts. The drawbacks can be that parts may be locally sub-optimal subcomponents of the larger whole. This needs to be overcome to be worthwhile, as there should be enough surplus in the holding parts. These points should be taken into consideration when planning new synergies and collaborative forms and can have resonance for Randstad Holland.”

“The lecture highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of both planning and self organisation. It made clear that although self organisation may offer an alternative to current urban planning practices, it is not the panacea. Self organisation does not provide the solution to everything and like planning, it has different variations and types. An ‘intermediate’ alternative may also be targeted self organisation, as it provides encouragement and a stimulus for self organisation with a future intention by means of setting some rules. These can lead to larger scale outcomes and may come in the form of codes.”


The report of the lecture and expert meeting held at the Erasmus University Rotterdam on November 24 and 25, 2o11 can be downloaded here